10 Ways to Improve Imagination

10 Ways to Improve Imagination

“Imagination is the highest kite one can fly!” - Lauren Bacall

Are you a creative person, like an artist, writer, or even an all around craft or hobby enthusiast?

If so – has there ever been a point in your experience, where someone - anyone - called you “WEIRD?”

Well, for me, I’ve been affectionately called “WEIRD” pretty much my whole life.

It’s usually in reference to my artwork or my sense of humor, and while I understand it now, I didn’t really get it when I was young.

A girl I dated in high school once called me “weird” after I said something that she found very funny.

“Why am I weird?” I asked, “People always say I’m weird, but I don’t know why! What makes me so ‘weird?”

She laughed and explained, “It’s a GOOD weird… you’re so creative and you come up with things that are so different from what everyone else does and it’s what I love about you!”

That was when I began to realize that this “WEIRDNESS” would become my most valuable asset.

It was my IMAGINATION that separated me from rest of the crowd.

When I went to ART SCHOOL, I found myself surrounded by “weird” people, a lot like me – ALTHOUGH, they all had their own, unique brand of “weirdness” that for me, was wild and unbridled!

I realized that my hobby of drawing & painting things that were WAY outside of what people expected would actually put me on a path to my creative journey and eventually lead me into a CAREER that – to this day – I still continue to enjoy and benefit from, all these years later.

Growing up, we had plenty of books on art, museums to visit, and even classes to take to help improve skills, but there were NO books or videos on “how to improve your imagination and think weird.”

And that’s where this article begins. It starts with the intuition to create, the interest in observing the world around us, and the curiosity to see what happens.

It’s about pushing our creativity into a new, unknown directions by simply twisting the way we look at things – even just a little. Where failure can bring success and success can end in failure.

BUT, what exactly IS our IMAGINATION and why is it important?

Imagination, by definition, is the ability to generate new ideas that didn’t necessarily exist before. It’s creating a fresh concept that fits into the environment around us, or altering an existing element to become noticeably different than before.  

In the early days of rock n’ roll music, artists created songs based on the music that was around them, like blues and big band. Throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s, popular music was, for the most part, original. But, in the 1980s, using technology, artists began to borrow the work of other artists and create new songs. Since then, “sampling” has been an industry standard and exists widely in much of today’s popular music.

It’s not very different with art, fashion, or literature… I mean, compare the works of CS Lewis, Tolkien, or JK Rowling.

But creative people in any field have to be careful not to draw from or imitate the works of other artists too closely,  or risk being accused of copyright infringement, plagiarism, or being called a copy-cat.

Being creative is a wonderful attribute and being able to expand that creativity can heighten the experience and help us to learn and grow, which is arguably the most important aspect in the development in any creative person.

So, exactly HOW do we become more IMAGINATIVE

How do we challenge our existing abilities to forge new paths with our imagination?

Well, for many creative people, they really don’t need to THINK about how to use their imagination – it just HAPPENS.  For others, they struggle to access that deeper level of their imagination beyond what they can see right in front of them.

While I have my own blend of weird thinking, I’ve met SO MANY creative people who – when I see or read THEIR WORK – I can’t help but think to myself, “WOW – now THAT really is weird!”

It’s kind of like one musician who can only play to the sheet music in front of them, while another musician can sit without sheet music and come up with the most wonderful, original music seemingly out of thin air.

For me, I can play many different instruments, but I never learned to read music and never took a lesson.  Yet, like many other musicians, I’ve learned to play through years of practicing and a that same passion to create, like when I was young. 

While my imagination has matured along with me, I still find that I sometimes need to remind myself of ways to ACCESS it when I’m not sure which direction I’m going. With my artwork, I taught myself several ways to ACCESS my imagination to help boost my creativity and create unique art in the style I work in.

I brought these ways to access imagination into the CLASSROOM, to help students learn how to improve their own skills in generating fresh, new concepts for their own artwork, as well.

So, I thought I would share them with you, as well.  Let’s begin with the first way, which is to…


The world is FULL of cliches, in music, Hollywood, books, and even online.

People claiming to create original creative works, that have actually been done so many times by other people, that their importance and meaning lose all impact and become so easily recognizable, to the point of overkill.

Examples of clichés in art might be unicorns & rainbows, ponies & princesses, skulls & dragons, and even familiar icons like peace symbols, crosses, or stars & moons.

It’s not that these ideas aren’t still fun to create, it’s only that throughout history, they’ve been done over and over and over so the value in what they represent is minimized because they’re no longer unique, fresh, or in many cases, interesting.

A drawing of a unicorn standing in front of a castle while shooting stars fly overhead will usually result in eye rolling.

However, with a little imagination, a unicorn working at the drive-thru window at McDonalds might be interesting to see.


Whenever I’m coming up with a logo or an illustration for a client, my mind always goes to the most obvious place. But as soon as I recognize it, I immediately begin to go in the opposite direction, steering clear of obvious, literal solutions.

For example, if I were to ask you to draw a picture to illustrate the word, “SOUR,” what would come to mind? If you came up with something to do with lemons or a sour face, then you went right to the obvious solution.

If I asked you for a picture of the word, “SOUR” without using a sour face or lemon, where would you go? What if I said you could only use a line?

Avoiding obvious solutions is important in coming up with unique ideas by removing the same ideas everyone else would come up with.


The word “transmogrify” is sort of a combination of “transform” and “ogre-ize.” 

It basically means to transform something to look hideous, typically for shock effect or for the sake of humor.  It’s the ability to take everyday things - like a tree, chair, or a banana - and transmogrifying it to produce something completely different,

like a scary tree with gnarly roots and ominous branches, a chair with long, knobby legs, or a banana with bugs coming out of it.

Transmogrifying a basic or sterile landscape or scene can create some really wild results. Take a look at the background of The Mona Lisa sometime, where DaVinci chose a wild landscape to put his innocent young woman on, instead of the traditional, sterile interior background.

Someone’s Got a Chip on Their Shoulder

4. 1 + 1 = 3 (or combining simple concepts to develop a complex concept)

When I was working with grade school kids, I came up with this simply addition problem that I called, “Art Math.” It was so effective, I used it with college level students and had great results with them, too.

In real mathematics, where 1 + 1 = 2, you have ONE apple and then add another apple, giving you TWO apples.  But in my ART MATH, it’s a little different.

With 1 + 1 = 3, you have ONE unique element and then add ANOTHER completely different, unique element and combine them to create a third, wholly independent, unique element. 

For example, take an ICE CUBE and combine it with a MEDIEVAL KNIGHT. The result is a mythical ICE KNIGHT with glistening armor and a powerful, frozen sword with magical powers.

It was always a fun exercise in class to have students come up with a list of 10 items, pair up with a partner, and combine items from each of their list. The results were always pretty funny and even a little bizarre!


While exaggeration may be obvious, it’s a really effective way of stretching your imagination while being very simple.  By taking normal features and literally making them larger, smaller, or a different color, it enhances the effect of the features to be more dramatic, humorous, or even scary.

I think of the extra wide grin of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, or Salvador Dali’s elephants with legs that stretched three stories tall.

In the film, “Stop Making Sense,” singer David Byrne of The Talking Heads wore an oversized suit to make his hands, head and feet look tiny. It was such a strange looking exaggeration, that it became an unforgettable icon of the late 1980’s.

Have you ever looked at Michelangelo’s sculpture of David? Did you notice that David’s hands, head, and feet are exaggerated and look far too large for his body?That’s because David was supposed to go on top of the Vatican. Michelangelo exaggerated the features, so that when people on the street looked up at the statue, the features would look normal due to forced perspective.

Exaggerating features, whether in the characters in a drawing, the lyrics of a song, or gestures in a dance routine, can bring whatever is it we’re creating into a larger, more dramatic perspective that is again, fresh and unique to whomever is viewing it.


The art of taking regular objects or scenes and turning them into images that are unclear, broken up, or confusing – like as in a kaleidoscope – can be a really interesting way of breaking down complex shapes into simple shapes and redefining them in a new form.

Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque created the entire Cubist movement by applying this technique, among many other artists throughout history. 

With the help of his mathematician friends, artist M.C. Escher took normal looking scenes and objects and turned them into incredible optical illusions and patterns by obfuscating reality in a way that causes visual confusion, even though the eye can still recognize what it sees.

This is why I love abstract art so much, because it forces me to see things in a way that is neither literal nor defined.


An IDIOM is a lot like a cliché but in written format, and like clichés, IDIOMs are probably something worth avoiding, as well.  Examples would be “a chip on your shoulder,” “reading between the lines,” or “fit as a fiddle.”

But the difference with IDIOMs, is that we can use them to our advantage. So, by inverting them – or even replacing parts of them – we can come up with some really interesting NEW visuals.

For example, instead of “a chip on your shoulder,” maybe instead, “a shoulder on your chip.” Or maybe replace “chip” with a giant mushroom or a second HEAD. Perhaps even replace both – “a doorknob on your ottoman.” Who knows?

Instead of “sick as a dog,” maybe use a porcupine, mollusk, or even salami.

There’s a lot of ways to manipulate idioms to come up with fun, fresh results.


One quote that’s always been interesting to me is, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” It simply means that no matter how you look at it or try to change it, a rose is always still a rose.

For people who look at things very literally, we take for granted the quote is talking about a flower.  But for those who can see things abstractly – or metaphorically – the rose can be many things.

Through abstraction, the rose could be a person’s name. Or the color of your cheeks when you’ve been outside in winter too long.  It could be a general reference to the color rose. And yes, it could still just be a flower. 

Abstract thinking can really open up the possibilities to our imagination.


Think about how you see the world, from your own vantage point. I’m about 5 foot 11 and see the world from a very specific perspective. I typically look down upon things, like tables, desks, furniture, and even children. But, what if I were to change that vantage point to someone much taller? Say, maybe someone 20 feet tall… or 50 feet tall? The world would look a whole lot different.

And what if I were only a few inches tall?  My view of the world would be completely different, like that of a small pet. 

Now, instead of changing my vantage point, what if I changed my AGE? Instead of being the age I am now, seeing the world through the eyes of a mature adult, I start looking through the eyes of a child? Or maybe through the eyes of a very old man?Maybe I change my gender to see through the eyes of a woman? Or maybe I see the world from the perspective of an animal, a plant, or even a sock.

There’s a whole world to discover if we can simply see through the eyes of something other than what we are.


Our daily lives are sewn together by ordinary moments and garnished by ordinary things. Between the cups and glasses on our kitchen shelves and the pants we wear, even the most expensive things evaporate into ordinary once the novelty of their new-ness wears off over time.

It’s easy to take for granted the simple things around us that often contain the most extra-ordinary surprises.

When drawing grass, do you consider all the tiny creatures that may live in the environment? They are there, leaving their mark on every blade of grass and inevitably affecting the outcome of our drawing.

Look at your own hand. Notice that the skin is not a simple flesh-tone color, but rather a complex network of lines, pores, hairs, and wrinkles that are laid out in a spectrum of colors – from blues and yellows, greens and pinks.

Our universe is tiny and compact when we try to see everything as a whole; however, move in close and seek the extra-ordinary view that reveal an entirely new universe within itself. The holes of a bowling ball. The straw of a hula skirt. Or the underside of a cement mixer on a construction site.

These are all tiny, extraordinary worlds where wondrous inspiration can be found, if we just take the time to notice and use our imagination when we do.

I hope this article was helpful for you and that you might have some new tools to exercise your imagination and maybe see things a little differently in the world around you. Thank you so much for reading. The video above is a visual extension of this article. If you enjoy it, please consider subscribing to my YouTube channel so I can bring more content like this to viewers.

Stay well and enjoy your creativity to the fullest! God bless! :)